The Deputy of Arcis

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Author: Honore de Balzac

I
The Sorrows of Monsieur De Trailles

During the evening which followed the election in which he had played a part so humiliating to his vanity, Maxime de Trailles returned to Paris. It might be supposed that in making, on his arrival, a rapid toilet and ordering his carriage to be instantly brought round, he was hastening to pay a visit to the Comte de Rastignac, minister of Public Works, to whom he must have desired to render an account of his mission, and explain as best he could the reasons of its ill-success.

But another and more pressing interest seemed to claim him.

"To Colonel Franchessini’s," he said to his coachman.

Arriving at the gate of one of the prettiest hotels in the /quartier/ Breda, and nodding to the concierge, he received an affirmative sign, which meant, "Monsieur is at home"; and at the same time a valet appeared on the portico to receive him.

"Is the colonel visible?" he asked.

"He has just gone into madame’s room. Does monsieur wish me to call him?"

"No, I’ll wait for him in the study."

Then, like one familiar with the house, and without waiting for the servant to usher him, he entered a large room on the ground-floor, which looked into a garden, and was filled with a miscellaneous collection of articles testifying to the colonel’s habits and tastes. Books, charts, and maps certainly justified the word "study"; but, as a frantic sportsman and member of the Jockey Club, the colonel had allowed this sanctum of mental labor and knowledge to become, by degrees, his smoking, fencing, and harness room. Pipes and weapons of all shapes and all lands, saddles, hunting-whips, spurs, bits of many patterns, foils and boxing-gloves formed a queer and heterogenous collection. However, by thus surrounding his daily life with the objects of his favorite /studies/, the colonel proved himself a man who possessed the courage of his opinions. In fact, he openly said that, beyond a passing notice, there was no reading worth a man’s attention except the "Stud Journal."

It is to be supposed, however, that politics had managed in some way to slip into this existence devoted to muscular exercise and the hippic science, for, from a heap of the morning journals disdainfully flung upon the floor by the worthy colonel, Monsieur de Trailles picked up a copy of the legitimist organ, in which he read, under the heading of ELECTIONS, the following article:

The staff of the National Guard and the Jockey Club, which had
various representatives in the last Chamber, have just sent one of
their shining notabilities to the one about to open. Colonel
Franchessini, so well known for his ardor in punishing the
refractories of the National Guard, has been elected almost
unanimously in one of the rotten boroughs of the civil list. It is
supposed that he will take his seat beside the phalanx of other
henchmen, and show himself in the Chamber, as he has elsewhere,
one of the firmest supporters of the policy of the /present order
of things/.

As Maxime finished reading the article, the colonel entered.

After serving the Empire for a very short time, Colonel Franchessini had become one of the most brilliant colonels of the Restoration; but in consequence of certain mists which had risen about the perfect honorableness of his character he had found himself obliged to send in his resignation, so that in 1830 he was fully prepared to devote himself in the most ardent manner to the dynasty of July. He did not re-enter military service, because, shortly after his misadventure he had met with an Englishwoman, enormously rich, who being taken with his beauty, worthy at that time of the Antinous, had made him her husband, and the colonel henceforth contented himself with the epaulets of the staff of the National Guard. He became, in that position, one of the most exacting and turbulent of blusterers, and through the influence of that quality combined with the fortune his wife had given him, he had just been elected, as the paper stated, to the Chamber of deputies. Approaching the fifties, like his friend de Trailles, Colonel Franchessini had still some pretensions to the after-glow of youth, which his slim figure and agile military bearing seemed likely to preserve to him for some time longer. Although he had conquered the difficulty of his gray hair, reducing its silvery reflections by keeping it cut very close, he was less resigned to the scantiness of his moustache, which he wore in youthful style, twirled to a sharp point by means of a Hungarian cosmetic, which also preserved to a certain degree its primitive color. But whoso wants to prove too much proves nothing, and in the black which the colonel used there was noticeably a raw tone, and an equality of shade too perfect for truth of nature. Hence his countenance, swarthy and strongly marked with the Italian origin indicated by his name, had an expression of singular rigidity, to which his features, now become angular, his piercing glance, and his nose like the beak of a bird of prey, did not afford the requisite corrective.

"Hey, Maxime!" he cried, shaking hands with his visitor, "where the devil do you come from? It is more than a fortnight since I have seen you at the club."

"Where do I come from?" replied Monsieur de Trailles. "I’ll tell you presently; but first let me congratulate you on your election."

"Yes," said the colonel, with apparent indifference, "/they/ would put me up; but I assure you, upon my honor, I was very innocent of it all, and if no one had done more than I—"

"But, my dear fellow, you are a blessed choice for that arrondissement; I only wish that the electors I have had to do with were equally intelligent."

"What! have you been standing for election? I didn’t suppose, taking into consideration the—rather troubled state of your finances, that you could manage it."

"True, and I was not electioneering on my own account. Rastignac was uneasy about the arrondissement of Arcis-sur-Aube, and he asked me to go down there for a few days."

"Arcis-sur-Aube? Seems to me I read an article about that this morning in one of those cabbage-leaves. Horrid choice, isn’t it?—some plasterer or image-maker they propose to send us?"

"Precisely; and it is about that very thing I have come to see you before I see the others. I have just arrived, and I don’t want to go to Rastignac until after I have talked with you."

"How is he getting on, that little minister?" said the colonel, taking no notice of the clever steps by which Maxime was gravitating toward the object of his visit. "They seem to be satisfied with him at the palace. Do you know that little Nucingen whom he married?"

"Yes, I often see Rastignac; he is a very old acquaintance of mine."

"She is pretty, that little thing," continued the colonel, "very pretty; and I think, the first year of marriage well buried, one might risk one’s self in that direction with some success."

"Come, come," said Maxime, "you are a serious man now, a legislator! As for me, the mere meddling in electoral matters in the interests of other people has sobered me."

"Did you say you went to Arcis-sur-Aube to hinder the election of that stone-cutter?"

"Not at all; I went there to throw myself in the way of the election of a Left-centre candidate."

"Pah! the Left, pure and simple, is hardly worse. But take a cigar; these are excellent. The princes smoke them."

The colonel rose and rang the bell, saying to the servant when he came, "A light!"

The cigars lighted, Monsieur de Trailles endeavored to prevent another interruption by declaring before he was questioned that he had never smoked anything more exquisite. Comfortably ensconced in his armchair, the colonel seemed to offer the hope of a less fugacious attention, and Monsieur de Trailles resumed:—

"All went well at first. To crush the candidate the ministry wanted to be rid of,—a lawyer, and the worst sort of cad,—I unearthed a stocking-maker, a fearful fool, whom I persuaded to offer himself as candidate. The worthy man was convinced that he belonged to the dynastic opposition. That is the opinion which, for the time being, prevails in that region. The election, thanks to me, was as good as made; and, our man once in Paris, the great Seducer in the Tuileries had only to say five words to him, and this dynastic opposer could have been turned inside out like one of this own stockings, and made to do whatever was wanted of him."

"Pretty well played that!" said the colonel. "I recognize my Maxime."

"You will recognize him still farther when he tells you that he was able, without recourse to perquisites, to make his own little profit out of the affair. In order to graft a little parliamentary ambition upon my vegetable, I addressed myself to his wife,—a rather appetizing provincial, though past her prime."

"Yes, yes, I see; very good!" said Franchessini; "husband made deputy —satisfied—shut his mouth."

"You are all wrong, my dear fellow; the pair have an only daughter, a spoilt child, nineteen years old, very agreeable face, and something like a million in her pocket."

"But, my dear Maxime, I passed your tailor’s house last night, and it was not illuminated."

"No; that would have been premature. However, here was the situation: two women frantic to get to Paris; gratitude to the skies for the man who would get them an introduction to the Palais-Bourbon; the little one crazy for the title of countess; the mother transported at the idea, carefully insinuated by me, of holding a political salon,—you must see all that such a situation offers, and you know me too well, I fancy, to suppose that I should fall below any of its opportunities."

"Quite easy in mind as to that," said the colonel, getting up to open a window and let out the smoke of their two cigars.

"I was on the point," continued Maxime, "of pocketing both daughter and /dot/, when there fell from the skies, or rather there rose from the nether regions, a Left candidate, the stone-cutter, as you call him, a man with two names,—in short, a natural son—"

"Ha!" said the colonel, "those fellows do have lucky stars, to be sure. I am not surprised if one of them mowed the grass from under your feet."

"My dear friend," said Maxime, "if we were in the middle ages, I should explain by magic and sorcery the utter discomfiture of my candidate, and the election of the stone-man, whom you are fated to have for your colleague. How is it possible to believe, what is however the fact, that an old /tricoteuse/, a former friend of Danton, and now the abbess of a convent of Ursulines, should actually, by the help of her nephew, an obscure organist in Paris, have so bewitched the whole electoral college that this upstart has been elected by a large majority?"

"But I suppose he had some friends and acquaintances in the town?"

"Not the ghost of one,—unless it might be that nun. Fortune, relations, father, even a name, he never had until the day of his arrival at Arcis two weeks ago; and now, if you please, the Comte Charles de Sallenauve, seigneur of the chateau of Arcis, is elected to the Chamber of deputies! God only knows how it was done! The pretended head of a former great family, representing himself as absent in foreign lands for many years, suddenly appears with this schemer before a notary in Arcis, recognizes him at a gallop as his son, buys the chateau of Arcis and presents it to him, and is off during the night before any one could even know what road he took. The trick thus played, the abbess and her aide-de-camp, the organist, launched the candidate, and at once republicans, legitimists, conservatives, clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie, in fact everybody, as if by some spell cast upon that region, all did the bidding of that old witch of a nun, and without the stalwart battalion of the functionaries (who under my eye stood firm and did not flinch), his election would have been, like yours, unanimous."

"Then, my poor friend, good-bye to the /dot/."

"Not precisely; though it must certainly be adjourned. The father grumbles because the blessed tranquillity of his life was disturbed and he himself covered with ridicule, though the poor dear man had already enough of that! The daughter still wants to be a countess, but the mother takes it hard that her political salon should be floating away from her, and God knows how far I shall be led in order to comfort her. Besides all this, I myself am goaded by the necessity of having to find the solution of my own problem pretty soon. I /had/ found it there: I intended to marry, and take a year to settle my affairs; at the next session I should have made my father-in-law resign and stepped into his seat in the Chamber; then, you understand, what an horizon before me!"

"But, my dear fellow, political horizon apart, don’t let that million slip through your fingers."

"Oh, heavens! as for that, except for the delay, I feel safe enough. My future family is about to remove to Paris. After this mortifying defeat, life in Arcis will not be endurable. Beauvisage (forgive the name, it is that of my adopted family)—Beauvisage is like Coriolanus, ready if he can to bring fire and slaughter on his ungrateful birthplace. Besides, in transplanting themselves hither, these unfortunate exiles know where to lay their heads, being the owners of the hotel Beauseant."

"Owners of the hotel Beauseant!" cried the colonel, in amazement.

"Yes; Beauseant—Beauvisage; only a termination to change. Ah! my dear fellow, you don’t know what these provincial fortunes are, accumulated penny by penny, especially when to the passion for saving is added the incessant aspiration of that leech called commerce. We must make up our minds to some course; the bourgeoisie are rising round us like a flood; it is almost affable in them to buy our chateaus and estates when they might guillotine us as in 1793, and get them for nothing."

"Happily for you, my dear Maxime, you have reduced the number of your chateaus and estates."

"You see yourself that is not so," replied Maxime, "inasmuch as I am now engaged in providing myself with one. The Beauseant house is to be repaired and refurnished immediately, and I am charged with the ordering of the work. But I have made my future mother-in-law another promise, and I want your help, my dear fellow, in fulfilling it."

"It isn’t a tobacco license, or a stamped-paper office, is it?"

"No, something less difficult. These damned women, when hatred or a desire for vengeance takes possession of them, are marvels of instinct; and Madame Beauvisage, who roars like a lioness at the very name of Sallenauve, has taken it into her head that beneath his incomprehensible success there is some foul intrigue or mystery. It is certain that the appearance and disappearance of this mysterious father have given rise to very singular conjectures; and probably if the thumb-screws were put upon the organist, who was, they say, entrusted with the education of the interesting bastard, we might get the secret of his birth and possibly other unexpected revelations. Now I have thought of a man on whom you have, I believe, great influence, who might in this hunt for facts assist us immensely. Don’t you remember the robbery of those jewels from Jenny Cardine, about which she was so unhappy one night at Very’s? You asked the waiter for pens and paper, and on a simple note which you sent at three o’clock in the morning to a Monsieur Saint-Esteve the police went to work, and before the evening of the next day the thieves were captured and the jewels restored."

"Yes," said the colonel, "I remember all that; my interference was lucky. But I must tell you that had I paused to reflect I should not have treated Monsieur de Saint-Esteve so cavalierly. He is a man to be approached with greater ceremony."

"/Ah ca/! but isn’t he a former galley-slave, whose pardon you helped to obtain, and who feels for you the veneration they say Fieschi felt for one of his protectors?"

"Yes, that is true. Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, like his predecessor, Bibi-Lupin, has had /misfortunes/; but he is to-day the head of the detective police, the important functions of which office he fulfils with rare capacity. If the matter concerned anything that comes within his department, I should not hesitate to give you a letter to him; but the affair you speak of is delicate; and in any case I must first sound him and see if he is willing to talk with you."

"I thought you managed him despotically. Let us say no more about it, if you think it so very difficult."

"The greatest difficulty is that I never see him; and I naturally cannot write to him for such an object. I should have to watch for an occasion, a chance meeting. But why don’t you speak of this to Rastignac? He could give him an order to act at once."

"Don’t you understand that Rastignac will receive me very ill indeed? I had assured him, by letter, of success, and now I am forced to report in person our defeat. Besides, on every account, I would rather owe this service to your friendship."

"Well, it sha’n’t fail you," said the colonel, rising. "I’ll do my best to satisfy you; only, there must be a delay."

The visit had lasted long, and Maxime felt that a hint was given him to abridge it. He therefore took leave, putting into his manner a certain coldness which the colonel appeared not to notice.

No sooner had Monsieur de Trailles departed than Franchessini opened a pack of cards and took out the knave of spades. This he cut up in a curious manner, leaving the figure untouched. Placing this species of hieroglyphic between two sheets of paper, he consigned it to an envelope. On this envelope and disguising his hand the colonel wrote as follows:—

Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, rue Saint-Anne, near the Quai des
Orfevres.

That done, he rang the bell and gave orders to put up his carriage, which he had ordered before Maxime’s arrival; after which he went out alone on foot, and threw his singular missive into the first street letter-box that he passed. He had taken care, before he left the house, to see if it were properly sealed.

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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "I. The Sorrows of Monsieur De Trailles," The Deputy of Arcis, trans. Marriage, Ellen in The Deputy of Arcis Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W74CPUQY7SSPTXP.

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "I. The Sorrows of Monsieur De Trailles." The Deputy of Arcis, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in The Deputy of Arcis, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W74CPUQY7SSPTXP.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'I. The Sorrows of Monsieur De Trailles' in The Deputy of Arcis, trans. . cited in , The Deputy of Arcis. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=W74CPUQY7SSPTXP.